On the Knicks’ trade deadline and what’s next, including possible Zach LaVine pursuit this offseason

Zach LaVine / Jamie Sabau – USA TODAY Sports

“I picked Leon because I believe [if] you look at the NBA and the game that we play, I believe that the team with the best talent wins. Then you want a guy that can get you the best talent. And I believe that Leon Rose is still the best guy.”

The quote above is from Knicks owner James Dolan. He said it two weeks ago during an interview on WFAN. If you needed confirmation that Dolan hired Rose and William Wesley to acquire top players, you had it straight from the owner himself.

That’s the ultimate directive for Rose and the Knicks: Bring a star to New York.

New York had opportunities to acquire some of the best talent in the NBA at the trade deadline.

OG Anunoby of the Toronto Raptors was available. Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were moved. The Chicago Bulls discussed trades of star Zach LaVine.

Obviously, Rose’s club didn’t acquire any of those players at the deadline.

They added a strong rotation player in the Portland Trail Blazers’ Josh Hart. But for the fourth straight trade deadline, Rose & Co. opted to hold on to their draft capital/young players. They decided to wait for the next opportunity to acquire a star.

Maybe you understand why they didn’t want to give up significant assets for Anunoby or LaVine (*the Nets would never have traded Durant or Irving to the Knicks).

Jan 31, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby (3) reacts after making a basket during the second quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena. / Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe you’re tired of waiting for the next draft/free agency/trade deadline. Maybe you wanted the Knicks to go all in on Anunoby or LaVine.

To me, Rose and his regime ultimately will be judged on the big swing they made to land a top player. I still expect them to make that kind of trade, whether it’s in the 2023 offseason or beyond.

And as long as the Knicks (30-26) remain around .500 and in the playoff hunt, I think Rose and his group will have another offseason and trade deadline to pursue a top player. I can’t see Dolan making any change at the top of the organization if New York finishes the season a few games above .500.

So regardless of how you feel about the Knicks’ performance at the trade deadline, you should get used to the idea that Rose and Co. will be running things in the 2023 offseason and beyond.

Story continues

They’re trying to do something that no one in pro sports has accomplished in the last 20-plus years: Build a winning NBA team at Madison Square Garden.

It seems like they have a solid foundation in place. Sure the concrete wasn’t poured well in some areas (for example: the Cam Reddish trade, nearly all of the signings in the 2021 offseason, Obi Toppin’s role). They’ve had some arguments over the blueprint (the Reddish trade).

But by and large, Rose, Wesley, Tom Thibodeau and Co. have constructed a solid foundation.

Their biggest move to date has worked out well. Jalen Brunson has exceeded expectations in his first season in New York.

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) brings the ball up court against the Portland Trail Blazers during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden / Brad Penner – USA TODAY Sports

They’ve drafted relatively well (Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Jericho Sims, and Miles McBride seem to be strong picks). The big money contracts for Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson all seem sensible.

And thanks in part to the work of their predecessors, Rose’s Knicks have strong draft capital to use on young players or in the pursuit of a star.

In that sense, the 2023 trade deadline was just another day on the construction site for the Knicks. They acquired a solid young player in Hart. It seems like a move that can help them in their pursuit of building a perennial contender.

Hart is a strong defender and rebounder and should fit seamlessly on offense. He has a player option next summer. Given his ties to the Knicks (Rose was his agent at CAA), I’d think the Knicks know they can re-sign him in free agency. Or, as The Athletic’s Fred Katz astutely noted on The Putback, New York can use Hart’s salary as an aggregate in a trade for a top player).

But if you wanted New York to go all in at the deadline, you were left disappointed.

The Knicks had interest in Anunoby. But I think concerns over losing him in free agency next summer factored in to their approach in talks for the elite defender. The Raptors also received strong interest from the Memphis Grizzlies – among other teams – on Anunoby. But they ultimately held on to him.

They had contact with Chicago on Thursday about a trade for LaVine. But they informed someone in the early afternoon that a LaVine trade was highly unlikely to happen.

The Knicks and Bulls also touched base on LaVine several weeks prior to the trade deadline, per people familiar with the matter. At the time, there was some internal support for acquiring LaVine in exchange for a package that included Derrick Rose, Evan Fournier, one of their top young rotation players, and significant draft capital. In the aftermath of that initial contact, some in the organization had concerns over whether a trade for LaVine would end up being a lateral move.

Jan 4, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) reacts after scoring in the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at United Center. / Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, the Knicks didn’t meet Chicago’s asking price on Thursday. This seems like a conversation both teams will at least explore again in the 2023 offseason.

New York had also touched base with the Detroit Pistons on Saddiq Bey and Bojan Bogdanovic, but it doesn’t seem as if they were close to acquiring either player on Thursday – or in the weeks leading up to the deadline.

On Derrick Rose, the Milwaukee Bucks are among the teams that expressed interest. The Sacramento Kings did as well. I don’t know if those teams failed to meet the Knicks’ asking price or if it was difficult to salary match (Rose is making $14.5 million this season).

It’s unknown if Rose will seek a buyout to join one of the contenders who expressed interest in him. He has a team option for next season at $15.6 million. You’d think that the Knicks decline the option. But just like Hart’s deal, the Knicks could guarantee the final season in Rose’s contract and aggregate it as part of a trade for a larger-salaried player).

Hart is expected to join the Knicks as early as Friday. He’ll play as soon as all players in the trade pass their physicals.

“We are excited to add Josh Hart to our Knicks family,” Rose said in a statement announcing the trade. “He’s a versatile two-way player who brings toughness, veteran leadership and a competitive edge to our roster.”

If all goes according to the Knicks’ plan, Hart bolsters their rotation and helps them get back to the playoffs. Then, he re-signs as a free agent or is part of a trade for a top player.

If it doesn’t work out, the Hart trade gets added to the Reddish transaction and 2021 free agency as missteps by Rose & Co. And another instance where Rose and his group passed on an opportunity to do what Dolan hired them to do: Bring a star to New York.


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